NORTH ESSEX THEATRE GUILD
2009-2010

 

SHOWCASE FESTIVAL

 

Little Waltham Drama Group FRANKENSTEIN the PANTO by David Swan

Adjudication date: 20th January 2010

Adjudicator: Andrew Hodgson

 

INTRODUCTION:

"Frankenstein" was one of the first of the "new wave" pantomimes that came onto the drama scene about twenty years ago. Basing a pantomime on one of the most famous of all horror stories might seem an unlikely prospect for success, but this script is a delightfully funny spoof that incorporates traditional pantomime elements. Although lacking the "magical" ingredients that endear me to the "fairy tale" pantomimes, I have seen "FRANKENSTEIN" about four or five times and t have never failed to enjoy it, this production was no exception.

 

FRONT OF HOUSE:

This was my second visit to Little Waltham and once again I received a very warm and friendly welcome from the front of house staff. The hall itself is intimate and the mainly adult audience were full of bubbling anticipation for the show ahead. I much appreciated the tray of coffee and biscuits brought to me at the interval, and the ice-cream trolley was an excellent idea. The programme was very well designed and produced, as well as being very informative. Thank you!

 

SETTING and PROPS:

The small stage had an apron on the front of it to enlarge the acting space. The sets were impressively built and painted, miracles were achieved in the intimate space available. I loved the two flats on either side of the stage, the "alpine" village on one side and Dracula's castle on the other. The lit-up, red eyes of the bats was an inspired touch. I particularly liked Heidi's bedroom, with its cracked walls, practical bed and window, Crackpot's lab was everything it should have been, full of gadgets, and Dracula's castle was full of lovely details from the grey stone walls, to the black and red coffin and the Grandfather clock that went backwards! Well done!

Props were an outstanding feature of this production. Lots were needed and they were all correctly larger than life! Again there were super details that added to the fun of the evening, particularly in the "operation" scene. Well done!

 

COSTUMES:

The costumes were generally bright, breezy and colourful, as they should be in a pantomime, but also appropriate to the characters, including the horrific ones! The opening "Bavarian" outfits of the villagers were spot on. I absolutely loved.

Frau Pumpernickel's costume, wig and makeup, her hat was a riot! Heidi looked very sweet and Ludwig suitably regal in his 18` Century garb, although I do think he would have worn a tricorn hat. I also loved Prof. Crackpot's outfit. the tartan trousers, yellow jacket and crazy hair all adding to the fun. I did feel that, later on, when he emerged from the explosion he would have been more ragged and blackened! Frankie's transformation into the Monster was well-handled, his "Boris Karloff" ensemble was exactly right, the bolts through the neck just the job! Similarly, Dracula 's costuming was exactly as we imagine him and the Schoolgirls were all skillfully differentiated according to their characterizations. The Dame's outfits were all suitably O.T.T. although I would have like him/her to have worn a wig, perhaps plaits, under his bedtime nightcap. Kodak's dog-suit and mask endeared him to the audience. Well done!

 

LIGHTING & SOUND:

I was impressed by the lighting rig that the group seems to possess. The lighting needs to be very atmospheric in this show, and it was! I've already mentioned the bats' eyes, and the red gobos used for the flying bats was an excellent idea. A follow-spot was used to good effect too. Lighting and sound cues were all smoothly executed and sound effects were generally spot-on. Again, well done!

 

MUSIC & MOVEMENT:

The quartet of musicians provided a lively accompaniment throughout the show. They looked as though they were having a good time! There were quite a lot of songs, but they were well-chosen panto favourites, some suggested in the script, and did not outstay their welcome! The overture was a nice touch and the final two company numbers were exuberantly performed, sending the audience home on a high note! Movement was fairly basic but I am a great believer in keeping things simple for a cast that no doubt featured a range of abilities in the dancing department!

 

ACTING:

 

HERR PUMPERNICKEL: Brian was very amusing and contrasted well to his statuesque wife! With his red nose and "cod" Bavarian accent, he helped to get the show off to a strong start. "Master of the House" was well done, it's not easy to get right!

FRAU PUMPERNICKEL: I loved Viv's larger-than-life performance in this part and only wish we'd seen more of her! She looked the part exactly and was lots of fun in a ghastly sort of way! Her facial reactions were excellent and her accent was hilarious. Played very well opposite her stage hubby, particularly in the song. Very well done!

FRANKIE: This was a very confident performance. Mike has an amiable, big­hearted stage persona that suited this role exactly. The audience warmed to him immediately, and he was able to make capital out of every situation, including a collapsing bucket! His transformation into the Monster was well handled and he looked just right... and was still as loveable!- Very well done!

HEIDI: Hannah was petite and feisty! She was also very confident on stage and played well to the audience and her fellow players. She and Ludwig made an attractive couple and they sang nicely together. The business when her head was on the trolley was very funny and worked well! Well done!

KODAK: Panto animals are hard to do and they seldom get enough credit. Kodak is one of the most loveable of such creatures, Sally did him full justice as she bounced and gruffed around the stage defending Heidi from the evil-doers! Engaging with an audience when you are encased in a mask and fur is difficult but Sally certainly succeeded!

BUCKLES: Glyn brought a bit of the cockney "cheekie chappie" to his valet and it worked well. He entered into the fun of the piece and made an impact whenever he appeared.

LUDWIG: I really enjoyed Heather's performance as a mature and attractive Principal Boy. She kept her tongue firmly in her cheek but played her romance with Heidi sincerely. Heather sang well and had a very clear speaking voice. Good engagement with the audience too! Well done! PROF. CRACKPOT: This is a gift of a role and John played it to the comic hilt! He looked just right and his "Germanic" mangling of the English language was hilarious. He performed "Monster Mash" to a tee. I did feel that the pacing of the operation scene was a little off, but there was a lot of business to handle whilst speaking and, overall, it worked well. Well done John!

MISS NELLY: Gareth had the physical presence that I think a good Dame needs. Vocally he pitched his voice well, if occasionally too falsetto. The audience really enjoyed his performance and he had a good rapport with them, and his fellow players. There were times when I felt that Gareth's timing was lacking in energy and the "striptease" didn't quite work, but overall he had all the qualities that make for a successful Dame!

COUNT DRACULA: Ken looked the part exactly and the upper-class accent was just right. Played very well with his stage Mum, he was the silly-ninny Mummy's boy that the part demands! A highlight for me was when Dracula and Granula appeared as cleaners, this dastardly duo played them to the hilt! GRANULA: Mags had a commanding stage-presence and I loved her "Zsa Zsa Gabor" style accent! She dominated her son unmercifully and went about her evil deeds with haughty disdain! There were times when l would have liked Mags to have been more evil and O.T.T and she seemed a little unsure of her lines in places, but there was much to enjoy in her performance. THE SCHOOLGIRLS: An outstanding element of this production was the team­playing of this rowdy gang of marauding schoolgirls, first cousins to their St. Trinians counterparts! They are always much funnier when played by older actresses. I loved the fact that they were all clearly differentiated and they all had their moments to shine! There was Sue's sexy and confident Bridget, determined to get her man at all costs, Jenny's punky, gum-chewing Mabel, Zoe's crafty and light-fingered Agnes, Nicola's know-it-ail Constance, nose always in a book and Maria's cheeky Ethel. These ladies played very well with each other and to the audience, singing and acting up a storm! Very well done!

THE CHORUS: The small chorus did all that was required of them with diligence and humour.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This was a competent and enjoyable production of a good pantomime script. I was particularly impressed with how the intimate stage space had been used. Blocking was good and there was a lot of business to accommodate. Most of this came off very well. There was a real feeling of enjoyment and team work which the mainly adult audience really responded to. It took a while to get them going but the cast, who had been well-drilled, rose to the occasion admirably. Although it may have been for practical reasons, I felt that the decision to move the Laboratory scene to Act 2 was a mistake. It meant that Act 1 ended abruptly and made the second half seem far too long. The pace flagged and an overall running time of 2hrs 40mins was too long. The show needed to lose about ten minutes. However, as I have already said, there was much to enjoy in this production. It was very colourful, most of the business was well-managed and there were strong performances. I greatly enjoyed my second visit to Little Waltham. Thank you!

 

Best wishes,

 

Andrew Hodgson (Adjudicator)